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State stops health insurers from canceling policies during pandemic

Maryland insurance regulators tapped emergency powers to ban health insurers from canceling or refusing to renew individual health policies for nonpayment for the next 60 days.

The move by Kathleen A. Birrane, the Maryland insurance commissioner, aims to keep people covered through the coronavirus pandemic. The measure applies to plans unpaid on or after July 31 and will remain in effect until Sept. 30, though the moratorium could be extended.

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“We acted to give people breathing space and will allow cancellations to resume in a reasonable period of time,” said Birrane, who used authority given under Gov. Larry Hogan’s state of emergency, first declared in March in response to the virus.

The order applies to individual and family plans sold directly by insurers in the state or through Maryland’s online exchange created under the Affordable Care Act. The Maryland Insurance Administration does not regulate most employer-based coverage because it’s often offered by companies that self-insure. Those plans fall under federal authority.

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Birrane noted that many companies already have taken steps to benefit policyholders, such as covering COVID-19 related testing and treatment. She said they also have deferred cancellations for months.

But more recently the carriers have begun to send out notices that policies would be terminated for nonpayment.

The state just ended a special enrollment period on the exchange for health insurance, commonly known as Obamacare, and that means people who lose coverage wouldn’t be able to sign up for a policy again until the next open enrollment period in the fall for next year.

Birrane said there will be no cancellations during the suspension period, even for those who have received a letter warning of a cancellation for nonpayment. Policies still can be canceled for other reasons, including when policyholders move out of the service area or covered children reach age 26.

Some people, however, still may qualify for new policies and can contact the Maryland Health Connection for information at 855-642-8572.

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